What are hot-swap mechanical keyboard switches?
We’ll tell you everything you need to know.
The biggest quality-of-life upgrade you can do for your PC is a good keyboard. Mechanical keyboards are objectively better than other types, giving every keystroke a pleasing feel and sound.
The thing is, most mechanical keyboards have their switches soldered in place. That means you must be handy with a soldering iron to swap out the switches, which is daunting.
Not so with mechanical keyboards sold as hot-swappable. These are designed to let you easily swap out the switches at a whim, so you can experiment and find your perfect keyboard sound and feel.
What is a hot-swappable mechanical keyboard?
When a mechanical keyboard is marketed as having hot-swappable switches, it’s designed with sockets that grip the switches and keep them secure.
That way, you can remove the switches with a basic switch-puller tool that looks like a pair of oversized tweezers.
Most mechanical keyboards with hot-swap capability will come with a pair of these tweezers, so you don’t have to buy another piece of equipment unless you want to.
This feature enables deep customizability, as you can change the switch type under each key to suit your preferences.
For example, you could have one switch type for gaming and swap them out for something quieter when you wanted to do work.
You could go even further, using one switch type on some keys, and another on others, to get the typing feel most suited to your fingers.
What switches can I use?
At one time, only Cherry MX could make mechanical key switches. Their patent ran out, and now you can get compatible key switches from multiple companies, like Outemu, Kailh, and Gateron.
With the rapid growth of the mechanical keyboard hobby, you can get all kinds of switches with exotic names and materials. These are often sold by smaller vendors or, in some cases, individual hobbyists.
The good news is that most key switches will work on most hot-swappable keyboards. With most hot-swap boards, you have an additional metal or plastic plate that helps keep your switches stable.
Switches can cost anywhere from cents each to $1.30 or so at the top end. Most are around $0.40 each and are often sold in packs of ten or 35.
You’ll want 3-pin switches with a large plastic pin in the center and two metal pins that provide electrical connectivity to the keyboard. There are also 5-pin switches, which have two additional plastic pins for stability on PCB-mount keyboards.
If you find you bought 5-pin by mistake, you can clip the two smaller plastic pins off, making them 3-pin. The reverse isn’t possible, so if you know you need 5-pin, you can’t use 3-pin switches.
What brands sell hot-swappable keyboards?
Once a niche product, hot-swappable mechanical keyboards are now sold by mainstream brands. Corsair now sells a wireless, hot-swap board, the $180 K70 Pro. Logitech’s $150 Pro X keyboard also features hot-swap.
Keychron is one of our favorites for low-cost, high-quality keyboards in various form factors. There is any number of smaller or boutique brands that also sell hot-swap-compatible keyboards.
Do I want a hot-swappable keyboard?
Do you spend much of your time in front of a computer? Like to play games without using a controller? Have a thing for pleasing noises or feels?
If the answer to any of these is yes, you may already have a mechanical keyboard. Getting a hot-swappable keyboard takes that experience to the next level, as you can change your switches to suit your typing style.
You could even set up your keyboard for dual use, with the WASD cluster on hair-trigger speed switches and the other keys using typing-friendly ones.
The point is, having a hot-swap keyboard gives you choices, and who wouldn’t want that?
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